Eden Prairie News

Especially for Children kids donate pile of presents for St. Joseph’s

Author(s): Renee Stewart    Date: December 21, 2006 Section: News

This Santa Claus is a Mann with a mission. He turns the tables – the children bring him gifts.

The kids from Especially for Children, an early childhood education center in Eden Prairie, recently shared a visit with Santa’s helper (Mike Mann) and brought gifts to donate to St. Joseph’s Home for Children.

For a number of years, Mann, an award-winning storyteller, has been coming to Especially for Children to regale the youngsters with stories and serve as Santa.

“He’s so wonderful,” said Lynn Seltz, Especially for Children’s codirector. “He’s so quiet. He gets down on [the children’s] level, and he listens to what they say.”

Seltz said 61 children participated in the special visit, and she estimated between 40 and 50 gifts will be sent to St. Joseph’s, thanks to the children and their families.

While it might be hard for the younger children to understand why Santa is taking gifts, the kids were “so willing to give,” Seltz noted. “They know Santa is going to do something good with them.”

Doing something good is important to Mann, a fulltime storyteller, and he wouldn’t don the red suit if he wasn’t staying true to his belief – that Christmas is more about giving and less about receiving.

His tenure as Santa began about 11 years ago when members from the 50th and France Business Association asked him to act as Santa. He declined. They persisted. Mann, uncomfortable with the commercialized edge to Santa, finally agreed to become Santa if people brought him donations for charity.

“It’s the only way I could do Santa Claus,” Mann said.

Mann, who lives in South Minneapolis, has continued the tradition and estimated that he visits about a half dozen sites a year to collect gifts. Every year, he can be found at the Red Balloon Book Store on St. Nicholas Day to gather donated books for homeless shelters. He also serves as Santa to about 70 other locales, where he tells giving-themed stories and lends a listening ear for children’s wishes and wants.

Mann finds a special connection with children before, during and after the holiday season.

“Children are such an honest audience,” he said. “It makes the experience different every time.”

He takes his role as a storyteller with a measure of respect. Historically, he noted, storytellers have helped shape and define a society’s attitudes and culture. Today, for better or worse, he said it is often the electronic media that holds the helm of storyteller. It’s his mission to use the spoken word to expand the children’s world in the spirit of giving, a role he finds fulfilling.

His own story began when his daughter came home with an assignment from school to turn off television for a week. The family replaced TV with visits to a library, where they found stories rich in entertainment not often found on television.

“One night, rather than reading a favorite story to his children for the umpteenth time, Mike put the book down, looked into their eyes, and told them the story. From that day, a course was set which has led Mike to a career as a professional storyteller and speaker,” according to his Web site.

Mann offers a variety of educational programs to children and adults in schools, libraries, educational conferences, corporate settings and churches throughout the upper Midwest, the site highlighted. Additionally, he is a training consultant and speaker for the National Institute on Media and the Family and an instructor for the Greater Minneapolis Day Care Association.

It could be easy to get wrapped up in a larger world of speaking engagements, conferences and turns as an instructor for adults, but Mann seems to derive his energy from the smaller moments in his career.

“The kids were just thrilled when we pulled up with two reindeer pulling the sleigh,” Mann said of the Especially for Children visit, a memory that warmed him on a chilly December afternoon. “When you do something for someone, you feel good inside.”
Copyright, 2006, Eden Prairie News (MN). All Rights Reserved.